Smartphones are not just a peripheral device that we sometimes keep about our person like a decorative watch or piece of jewelry. The smartphone is the very center of our digital lives, which is why now automakers are clamoring to ensure that we can easily extend our smartphone’s functionality into our vehicles.
Apple CarPlay is available on just about every car that has an infotainment touchscreen and USB ports. There is, however, one very notable exception that has not included Apple CarPlay on any model they have ever released: and that’s Tesla.
Why is this? What does Tesla have within its onboard system that renders Apple CarPlay either unnecessary or unwanted? What do iPhone users do instead of using CarPlay when they really want their iOS interface? These questions and more we will be answering in today’s blog.
Background: What is Apple CarPlay?
Apple CarPlay is an automotive smartphone connectivity feature that allows users to connect their iPhone to their vehicle and display a version of iOS through the car’s infotainment display. Not every iOS app can be displayed, obviously, but most enjoyably it can be used to play one’s Apple Music, Podcasts, Audiobooks and other media. More critically, however, it allows users to run their smartphone’s Apple Maps, Waze and/or Google Maps through their car.
CarPlay was first launched in 2014, but it was only when the above-mentioned latter two map apps, Waze and Google Maps were integrated in 2018 that the system really started to gain traction. In the past couple of model years, we have also started to see wireless Apple CarPlay become another feature, which helps drivers free up their phone to sit on a dashboard holder or elsewhere while still being connected. It also decluttered the cabin from some of the many wires that have been accumulating in the cockpit due to multiple aftermarket and additional tech devices being added by drivers.
How Does it Work?
Operation of CarPlay is simple, either wired or wireless. Most cars still require a connection via a Lightning cable, which in turn activates an icon on the infotainment display. The display then becomes like an iOS display, which many also like because they’re more familiar with that operating system and user interface compared with whatever system and style was chosen by their car’s OEM.
To help drivers maintain their eyes and attention on the road, many of CarPlay’s functions can be operated using the Siri AI with voice commands. Siri is either voice activated or via a pre-selected button among the steering wheel controls.
Besides functions mentioned above, Apple CarPlay can also make and receive calls, as well as send and receive text messages. The main benefit of Apple CarPlay is the creation of an interface that users are very familiar with because it’s exactly like their iPhone.
Why Doesn’t Tesla Offer Apple CarPlay as an Option?
1. Company Direction and Ethos
There are many explanations that exist out there as to why Tesla opts not to install Apple CarPlay in their vehicles. The first concerns the constant stream of upgrades that come along with both Apple CarPlay and its near rival Android Auto. With Apple CarPlay updating and changing their system, Tesla would have to switch from their current strategy of unilateral progress to one of “following” the path of CarPlay, constantly making adaptations that fit in with the development of CarPlay.
This isn’t exactly in keeping with the ethos of Elon Musk and Tesla, which presents itself very much as a pioneer in the EV sector. Tesla is in a constant flurry to be at the forefront of innovation, integrating new features and technology. Though it’s not always the very first player there — e.g., one-pedal driving — they still try to leap-frog other competitors and go their own way.
2. They’re Already Past It
In a similar vein to the first reason, the pioneering ethos of Tesla has already put its cars in a place where Apple CarPlay becomes somewhat redundant in their view. Systems like Apple CarPlay, just like Android Auto and even the relatively new Amazon Echo Auto, are tools that are meant to enhance the interiors of older cars, dragging them forward to a more contemporary space.
Tesla arguably doesn’t need assistance in this regard. Tesla’s infotainment screens, features, media and controls already feel very high-end, and so besides a familiar system interface like iOS, there appears to be very little that the system has to offer to Tesla drivers.
3. Tesla is About Proprietary Technology
Also related to the ethos of Tesla as a company, they are much more focused on developing proprietary, in-house technology. Where other brands look to outside companies to provide tools for them to integrate, Tesla is more of an “in-house” focus. It’s the riskier route that they take, but also a potentially far more fruitful one.
The proprietary ecosystem and culture that Tesla is developing is not easily compatible with outside third-party technology. That’s why there are fewer integrations of third-party apps and technology within that ecosystem. Remember, though, that Apple was once very similar, but over time was able to integrate other software into its ecosystem very successfully. Tesla could take a similar road.
4. Tesla’s System Allows the Cars to Learn
By operating its own exclusive system, Tesla’s growing network of cars and owners is constantly learning and sharing about public roads, how to self-drive on them, what hazards exist and more. The internal Tesla network makes this kind of sharing possible. There would be little to no benefit at all of placing a Tesla within someone else’s network and siphoning data off to some other company. Tesla is like a living, developing community.
What Tesla Functionality is Comparable to Apple CarPlay?
There are some fans of the Tesla brand who argue quite cogently and vehemently that Tesla not only “need not” integrate Apple CarPlay but actually should make it their business not to do so. One of the main arguments behind this is that Tesla’s own system features many of the things for which other people highlight Apple CarPlay.
- 1. Maps – Apple Maps and now Waze and Google Maps are all fine, but Tesla has its own very developed map and navigation software with turn-by-turn directions. In this sense, Apple CarPlay would not be bringing anything new to the party at all. In fact, to use third-party maps would just slow the system down because instead of contacting Tesla’s satellite network it would have to interface with those of an outside company and then translate it all into a display on the Tesla system. It’s far easier to keep it in-house.
- 2. Streaming – You can already connect to your iPhone via Bluetooth and stream music through the Tesla infotainment system. Even without pairing your iPhone, Tesla also has much built-in media such as streaming, radio stations and more. There’s no “Apple Music” app, that’s true, but many speculate that since Apple Music has already been integrated into other operating systems as a stand-alone app, that it may therefore be possible to do the same on the Tesla as an app within Tesla’s ecosystem. In the meantime, there’s always Spotify.
- 3. Calls, Messages and More – You can have your contacts/phonebook in your Tesla system and you can make and receive calls as well as send and receive text messages. Besides this, it has a calendar, browser, entertainment apps like Netflix and YouTube, games, voice commands and more. There are even some additional “Easter Eggs” that Tesla put in the system that used to be hidden features but are now placed prominently since people have mostly discovered them.
Can You Mirror Your iPhone Screen in Your Tesla?
Yes, you can. In this section, we’ll first introduce the way that most people are using to mirror their iPhone screens, and that is via use of the TeslaMirror app.
When you download the TeslaMirror app onto your iPhone, you can then turn your phone into a kind of proxy that your Tesla screen then connects to. Once connected, you can go to the browser on your Tesla infotainment screen, link to the URL and bring up a feed of your iPhone screen in the browser.
This method is not a perfect method of displaying iOS features on your Tesla screen. The frame rate is slower and many people complain of the lag factor. This is to be expected, however, since it’s essentially routing your iPhone through various servers and proxies to load it via the web onto your Tesla infotainment screen. The fact that it doesn’t lag more than it does now is nothing short of miraculous.
The main advantage of using TeslaMirror is that you place the iPhone screen onto your Tesla screen directly and don’t have to resort to secondary screens (see below). It also allows you to use apps that are otherwise not present in Tesla’s system like Waze. Obviously the main limitation, besides the frame rate, is that it mirrors your iPhone so you only get the vertical rectangular (or horizontal if you rotate) screen which is narrow.
Using a Secondary Screen
There is one other method of “installing” Apple CarPlay into your Tesla, which is through use of a Kindle Fire. This simple and small tablet, if connected correctly to your iPhone, can fool your phone into thinking that it is connected to a car infotainment screen, and thus you can run CarPlay through the Kindle Fire.
Obviously, the problem here is that the CarPlay features are displayed only on that much smaller screen and not your main Tesla screen. There’s also the question of where to put it without cluttering up the cockpit while also being able to easily reach it to access the features. It’s not a clean or elegant solution but is a way that you can temporarily jerry-rig the Apple CarPlay system into your Tesla without impacting Tesla’s own system at all.
Conclusion: Why No Apple CarPlay? Because There’s No Need.
While there does seem to be quite some demand for Apple CarPlay from a segment of the Tesla community — a very loud segment, in fact — there also seem to be many compelling reasons as to why Tesla need not pursue Apple CarPlay so actively. Tesla is most likely going to simply wait for the right time to integrate individual apps that won’t disturb their own ecosystem.
It’s a path that requires more will power and patience, but in the long term it pays off because it allows you proprietary control of your systems. This is apparently something that Tesla aspires to, and so there’s no reason to expect them to give it up.
Those who want their iPhone display or even a rigged display to show CarPlay within their Tesla have solutions to work around the problem, but there doesn’t appear to be much movement from Tesla regarding full integration of the system. Market forces may change that over time, however.